Our days are full of decisions – neuroscientists estimate that adults make 35,000 choices, simple to complex, large and small, each day. One would think that with all the practice it would be easy, yet “being a better decision maker” sits high as a self-improvement goal for many of my clients.
Dig a little deeper and typically what surfaces are two types of decision-making challenges. Each is at categorically different ends of the behavior scale but both lead to lost productivity and mountains of frustration.
The good news is that if you can identify your challenge and examine how it compromises your ability to decide, you can put what I call the intuition + insight habit into practice and quickly reap the benefits.
What’s your Decision Making Challenge?
At one end of the spectrum there’s the over thinkers.
When faced with an important decision they withdraw and devise solutions – a good thing and definitely a strength in many contexts. Unfortunately they get so stuck mapping out processes, looking at the data and contemplating every conceivable outcome that they can’t make decisions at a pace required by the organization. They are often labeled procrastinators.
In contrast, there’s the “ready, fire, aim” decision makers.
We all know this profile. Their self-confident, quick to act and risk taking nature serves them well most of the time; in fact, it’s often enabled their success. However, as they move from individual contributors to leaders they find themselves faulted for being rash and maybe even reckless in certain contexts.
Does one of the scenarios sound familiar? Or maybe in certain contexts? Being aware of where you sit on the spectrum determines whether you work on adding intuition or insight into your decision making routine.
My gut told me.
Two years ago my husband woke up with a headache … an hour later he left our home strapped to a gurney, nearly unconscious. When I arrived at the ER moments before he was wheeled in for an emergency craniotomy the doctor said to me, “your quick thinking saved your husband’s life”.
As one might imagine I’ve retold and mentally replayed that day frequently. People always ask, “ he just had a headache, how did you know to call 911…? My answer – I took one look at him and my gut told me, this is different, I need 911.
In Psychology Today author Kelly Turner PhD. explains, “ Researchers have found that intuition is part of System 1 (our quick, instinctual, and often subconscious way of operating – it is controlled by our right brain), which is why it comes on so rapidly and often does not make rational sense to us. ”
She cites multiple studies that demonstrate “trusting your intuition leads to better outcomes than trusting your logical, thinking brain.”
Bottom line, you can trust your gut.
Insight – a deeper understanding of a person or thing.
But wait, I’m not green lighting the “ ready, fire, aim” method. Studies of highly effective leaders cite “organizational awareness” as a key competency area. When faced with important business decisions, they engage, consult and seek input. They know that in order to make a better decision – one that is aligned with the organization’s culture, goals or strategy they need insight and getting it requires discovery.
At least three points of view.
The former superintendent of our school district ran a Saturday school for high school students that taught mindful thinking. Once a month over the course of two years my daughter and I did our best to absorb mountains of information (probably too much for the average sleep-deprived person) but one idea stood out. Before you make any conscious decision, get three points of view.
Three points of view – it’s not rocket science. But ask yourself – do you do that? Most of the time, some of the time?
It’s also important to consider whose point of view are you getting. Actively seek information most relevant to a question. Depending on context your discovery may need to be horizontal (e.g. peers), vertical (your boss, your direct reports… the receptionist) and external (e.g. customers and suppliers). The key is to get enough perspective to broaden your thinking, validate an idea/conclusion and keep yourself from doing something disastrous.
The key here is being comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity. Effective leaders do this well. They check their gut, do the discovery, get the insights and then GO. They understand that something can be reassessed or optimized if it isn’t quite right. The pace of the process depends on the decision.
The intuition + insight habit. It’s learnable, it’s doable – here’s to better quality decisions!